x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

New comic hero makes headlines

DC Comics introduces a new superhero to its Batman series.

Nightrunner is a new DC Comics hero who is Muslim.
Nightrunner is a new DC Comics hero who is Muslim.

Holy bust-up Batman! The Caped Crusader has found himself on the receiving end of a dastardly attack. The assailant? Not the evil Penguin nor even the maniacal Joker. This time, the hero of Gotham City has ignited the fury of a far more villainous foe ... the US conservative blogging network.

His perceived wrong-doing? Recruiting a Muslim to run his crime-fighting operation in Paris.

The controversy surrounds the new superhero, Nightrunner, who appeared in DC Comics' Batman Annual 2011 last month. "Real" name Bilal Asselah, he is an Algerian immigrant, adept at the gymnastic sport parkour and a resident of Clichy-sous-Bois, the crime-ridden area east of Paris, which was the epicentre of the country's 2005 riots.

A recent storyline has seen the Dark Knight scouring the world for similarly minded vigilantes, including members in Argentina, the UK and Japan - all united under the Batman Incorporated banner.

But the furious blustering of a few US conservatives was quickly drowned out by more moderate online commenters supporting DC's decision to give Batman a Muslim counterpart and condemning the blog posts as "racist".

"For comics fans it is a non-issue," says Rich Johnston, the editor of the comics website Bleeding Cool. "He's not even the first Muslim superhero; you've had them in the X-Men for example. It's just something these bloggers haven't noticed before."

Nightrunner-gate is just the latest controversy that has seen the contents of contemporary comic-books targeted by right-wingers. Marvel Comics' Captain America #602, released in January 2010, was accused of containing a jab at the Tea Party movement. It saw the story's heroes stumble across an anti-tax rally in the 1950s. During the protest, Captain America's black counterpart, The Falcon, jokes that he would probably be unwelcome in a crowd of "angry white folks".

Last month, the white supremacist group the Council of Conservative Citizens called for a boycott of the forthcoming superhero movie Thor, based on the Marvel character, on the grounds that a black actor, Idris Elba, had been cast in the role of a Norse god. Elba - who stars in the HBO television series The Wire - will play Heimdall in the Kenneth Branagh-directed film.

Muslim superheroes also hit the headlines in the US last year with the US president (and loyal comics fan) Barack Obama's endorsement of The 99 - about a band of crime-fighters whose individual powers are based on the 99 names of Allah. The president praised the work of the comic's creator, the Kuwaiti psychologist Naif al-Mustawa, and said the characters "embody the teachings of the tolerance of Islam".

However, the New York Post criticised the animated version of the comic, which was set to air on the children's channel The Hub, and urged the network to "cancel The 99 before it starts".

But in Nightrunner's case, the controversy created by those desperate to see him hang up his cape could in fact help the character to become one of DC's regular stable of heroes.

"A publisher who wants to sell lots of copies would probably try to piggyback off all this publicity," says Johnston.

Here's hoping we see plenty more of him.